SEATTLE — Returning from a disappointing trip, changes were expected from Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler.
Early in Seattle’s matchup against Atlanta on Sunday at KeyArena, those changes didn’t seem to be making a difference — the Storm still began the game slow offensively and still couldn’t rebound. But guard Tanisha Wright sparked the Storm in the third quarter, and an 11-0 run in the fourth helped Seattle put away Atlanta, 73-65, before 6,479 fans.
“It’s a mental thing now,” Wright said of the slow starts.
Seattle was down 16-6 early, shooting 3 of 10 from the field.
“When we get to the point where we’re just fed up with starts like this, it’ll change around,” Wright continued. “It’s not like we’re not talking about it. But once you focus on something and you hold it ... we just need to let it go and play basketball.”
Seattle (6-8) had lost five of its past six games before Sunday, prompting Agler to move second-year forward Shekinna Stricklen into the starting lineup in place of veteran Noelle Quinn. Agler also signed center Ashley Robinson after the team returned from a 1-3 trip.
Yet the Storm was shooting 30 percent early against the Dream (10-3), which played without All-Stars Angel McCoughtry (Achilles), Sancho Lyttle (foot) and forward Tiffany Hayes (knee).
The Storm needed an 8-3 run midway in the second quarter to close to 23-20 after forward Camille Little muscled in a bucket. The Storm trailed 37-32 at the break.
Wright scored seven of the Storm’s 15 points in the third quarter as Seattle slowly closed the gap.
With the scored tied at 54, Seattle went on an 11-0 run capped by a Wright runner to move ahead 65-54 with 3:34 remaining.
Wright finished with a season-high 21 points while Little had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Atlanta was led by rookie guard Alex Bentley (16 points) and veteran center Erika de Souza (16 points and 14 rebounds).
“I don’t want this situation to look like Noelle was the reason we weren’t getting off to great starts,” Agler said. “It’s just that we’re trying to find the right combinations. And maybe we’re not done changing. We’ve got to play better from the beginning of the game.”
Robinson, a fan favorite, made her 2013 WNBA debut in the second quarter. She was preparing for a trip to Cancun at the end of July to celebrate her 31st birthday when Agler offered her a free-agent contract. Robinson had spent the offseason playing in Korea and planned to end her professional career there.
“I made up my mind, I’m not playing in the WNBA this summer,” Robinson said. “There was a lot of stuff when I got traded and I felt a lot of ways about it. But for Brian to bring me back for my 10th season, that being a personal goal of mine, it means a lot and I don’t think he knew that.”
The 6-foot-4 Robinson was traded to Washington in February 2012 by Agler in exchange for second-year forward Victoria Dunlap, who was later cut by Agler.
As a backup to three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, Robinson’s best Storm season was in 2011 when she averaged 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds, starting 13 games when Jackson underwent left hip surgery.
Robinson played against Atlanta ahead of Storm rookie Tianna Hawkins, who saw no action. It was the Storm’s first win against the Dream since Robinson was part of the 2010 championship team that swept Atlanta in the WNBA Finals.
“We want Tianna to earn her playing time in practice,” Agler said. “For young players like her, like Shekinna last year, you have to earn your time in practice. It’s not going to be given to you.”